The "Planet of the Apes" franchise is not just rolling along. It is picking up steam. With "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", we arguably have the new champion of the entire franchise. This industry is based upon a French novel, originally published in 1963. In 1968, the first "Planet of the Apes film hit the screens and the American consciousness. Charlton Heston was featured in the first three films. Now, the apes are the stars and the humans have been reduced to supporting roles.
This latest installment is a rare combination of story, acting, direction, and CGI, all working together like a well-oiled machine. It makes this one the best one of the bunch, and a surprisingly fun and gripping couple of hours.
Perhaps its greatest achievement, and there are many, is the way you can find yourself confused as to who to root for in this latest battle between man and ape. There are only two or three real bad guys and each side has at least one of them. The rest of the humans and apes are essentially good, or at the very least, not evil, even if horrific atrocities are being committed by both sides.
In the very first scene everything is laid out for us. The human race is dying off from a Simian virus that came about from scientists trying to find a cure for Alzheimer's. A few survivors with immunity to the disease are holed up in a building in San Francisco. They are running low on fuel and need to get access to a dam, in order to feed electricity into their dwindling community. Meanwhile the apes are living in the hills just outside of San Francisco. Both groups have seen no evidence of the other in a couple of years. The apes suspect that the humans may have become extinct. The humans' sole concern is survival. When a group of humans goes toward the dam, the groups come into contact, once again, and tensions are bubbling very close to the surface.
The apes have evolved to the point where they communicate with sign language. Subtitles tell us what they are saying to each other. Some have even developed the ability to speak, especially their leader, Caesar, who is motion-captured by Andy Serkis, the current reigning king of his field.
I was genuinely shocked by how good-looking "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is, but if that's all it had going for it, it would be no different than many other films that routinely get released. It manages to evoke genuine emotion and makes us ponder what differences exist between species and within species. There is almost an underlying anti-racist tone to it all. Yes, there are a couple of scenes that may bring an unintentional chuckle, but otherwise this works on so many levels that it can take its place among some of the best science fiction ever put on film. It's not the best, but it's not all that far off. A special tip of the cap to Director Matt Reeves who has tossed out a beaut.